Laurence Fox’s new party exposes the right’s ideological vacuum
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The concept has been laughed off by some as a vanity project, yet it reflects the inability of the right-wing mainstream to produce a viable challenge to wokeness and identity politics.
Actor and singer-songwriter Laurence Fox is forming a new political party. Fox, best known for his performance as Detective Hathaway on Lewis, has judged there to be a gap in the market for a party which “promises to make our future a shared endeavour, not a divisive one” and which shall challenge “public institutions [which] now work to an agenda beyond their main purpose.”
The actor’s Question Time appearance in January was met with a mix of outrage and incredulity when he pointed out that judging someone’s opinions based on their immutable characteristics could be considered a rather regressive position. It appears to have been something of a Damascene moment in the political development of Fox, and since then he has embraced a newfound purpose as right-wing provocateur.
Following his Question Time performance, he was rapidly disowned by the Twitter luvvies who were exceptionally eager to pile into the cancel culture bandwagon, with actors’ union Equity calling him a “disgrace” (they were quick to withdraw those comments following threat of legal action.) He has since redoubled his determination to make a nuisance of himself to the identitarian zealots.
These efforts have now come to fruition in the formation of a new political party, provisionally called Reclaim. The initial response has been, predictably, one of snideness and ridicule from the Twitter Left, who have yet to forgive his transgressions. To many who have not followed Fox’s skirmishes (and to many who have), it might seem rather an improbable project and certainly not a newsworthy item.
Yet Fox’s effort follows signs that there is something of an appetite for his ideological brand and is symptomatic of a broader political weakness on the mainstream right. Over the past decade, the identitarian left have become increasingly emboldened in their attacks, and the establishment right, particularly within the Conservative Party, have shown a worrying reluctance to challenge them in the ever-intensifying culture war enveloping our institutions.
Despite attempts to “cancel” him, Fox has enjoyed considerable popularity for his comments. Efforts to drown him out were unsuccessful and he gained over 100,000 Twitter followers in the fortnight following his appearance. The Telegraph reports that he has fundraised over £1 million for his new party, including from major Conservative donors. His pitch, to “promote an open space though full protection of the fundamental freedoms of speech, expression, thought, association and academic inquiry” is resonating with many who are disappointed by the absence of a serious challenge to the identitarian mob.
Concern regarding this absence extends into the current ranks of the parliamentary Conservative Party. There are rumbles that the current leadership’s efforts to challenge woke culture have been inadequate. Ben Bradley has been praised for his refusal to take part in absurd and wasteful spending of public funds on “unconscious bias training” for MPs. Influential Tory blog ConservativeHome published three articles last week bemoaning the lack of willingness from the party elite to engage meaningfully in the culture war.
The feeling cannot be shaken that little is being done to make a positive case against identity politics and wokeness, and it leaves many uneasy. This lack of ideological challenge from the establishment right is a serious political problem, and it is unsurprising that into the ideological void political challengers like Fox are entering.
The fault lines between left and right have become less to do with economic policy and more to do with ideological positioning on cultural questions of identity, especially through the lenses of race, gender and sexuality. The right has historically had the advantage in making the economic case. But on arguments of identity, they seem deeply uncomfortable.
This reluctance is perplexing. Certainly, it isn’t the result of public opinion. The electorate’s dismissal of Corbynism was influenced partly by the public’s distaste for a Labour Party increasingly obsessed with identity instead of meaningful engagement on policy issues.
Polling indicates that there is little support for the general thesis of “Britain equals Empire equals Evil” which pervades movements such as BLM, who have wholeheartedly embraced a view of culture and history which can be interpreted solely through the identitarian lens. Most Britons are proud of our history and heritage and see little benefit to be gained from arguing that our defining characteristics are our immutable ones.
The implications for a worldview which is entirely predicated on power structures and oppression has been playing out in British cities where radical elements of the movement have taken it upon themselves to cleanse our shameful past from the town square, with historic monuments torn down as police look on. Unsurprisingly, the public have an exceptionally dim view of such extra-democratic and extra-judiciary efforts to rewrite our history by the mob.
The absence of a coherent ideological challenge from the right is likely one of tactical inadequacy. Leftists who have built the weapons through which their beliefs are enforced have found them to be extremely effective. These weapons, the Twitter mob, the lexical menagerie of pronouns and gender identities, the adoption of indisputable slogans (Black Lives Matter, of course they do) as cover to achieve underhanded political change and overt cultural vandalism have been wielded effectively to neutralise dissent. This arsenal is unfamiliar to the Conservative grandees who should be driving the cultural opposition.
And if this inaction is partly motivated by an attempt to placate the woke mob, it betrays a dangerous misunderstanding of their willingness to engage in rational debate. The identitarian left are not interested in compromise and do not intend to take political prisoners. But their efforts to destroy the lives and careers of those unwilling to bend a knee to their ideology may be becoming slightly more ineffective. Calling everyone presenting a conflicting perspective a “bigot” is losing its shock value.
The establishment right should take this as an opportunity to break these militant movements and chalk up a decisive win. For whatever reason, they seem uninterested in or incapable of doing so, and the mantle has instead been passed to a growing number of organisers and critics, many of whom have previously found themselves on the receiving end of the cancel mob’s wrath, who refuse to be bullied into ideological conformity.
The idea of a new political movement forming on the right less than a year after the Conservatives returned a majority of 80 at a general election seems absurd. Yet this has happened, and despite the snide mocking of left Twitter, there are indications that there is a genuine desire for the philosophy it espouses. This should concern the mainstream right, who have had their bubble embarrassingly burst multiple times over the past few years at the ballot box. They ignore the public appetite for a challenge to wokeness at their own peril.